What great literature can teach us about the fate of refugees


Is the literary canon relevant to our time?

Of course he does. Whatever else, Odyssey is a calculation of post-traumatic stress disorder. Romeo and Juliet suggests constant insights into teen suicide, Othello racism, King Lear to the impurities of old age.

Aren’t such readings reductionism? Optional. Literature has historically been a major tool in the study of human psychology and behavior in cultures; explored social relations, roles, and institutions; dealing with philosophical issues related to guilt, personal and collective responsibility, purification, redemption, and forgiveness.

Our strongest reports on the way of life, colonialism, family dynamics, political decision-making, and the trials of war are found in literature, not in history books or works of the social sciences.

Robert F. Barsky, a brilliant jurist and linguist whose research focuses on social justice, human rights, and the study of borders and refugees, says in his latest book: Request legal protection, a public understanding of the problems of refugees and asylum can be of great benefit from the study of great literary works. His book deals with classical and canonical texts Odyssey, Aeneid, Divine comedy, A lost paradise and Faust for Oroonoko, Frankenstein, Alice in Wonderland and Kafka’s works – talk about issues related to resettlement, persecution, exile, marginalization, and xenophobia.

He noted that a careful reading of these texts would not only shed light on current issues related to migration, border crossing and refugee treatment, but also evoke a sense of sympathy not found in United Nations or NGO reports. possible. Because students already appreciate these texts, new readings can be based on pre-existing empathy and identities.

Barsky points out that since classical antiquity, literature has been preoccupied with changes in the environment and displacements caused by natural disasters, the ingestion of strangers, and the threat of subversion predicted by newcomers. Since great literary works have served as a common cultural currency, dealing with these texts, in particular, helps to develop empathy and identification for the plight of modern refugees.

These works not only help readers understand the “trials and tribulations of flying and crossing the border,” the experience of being separated from what everyone knows, and colliding with different gatekeepers, but also how previously societies reacted to what they considered infiltration or vandalism or alienation.

Barsky’s book is part of a line of legal education that emerged in the late 20th century: covering interdisciplinary relationships that were evident in the rise of law and literature, legal and economic movements, and critical race theory. Indeed, many law professors from leading law schools now hold PhD degrees. in another science.

The interdisciplinary sequence casts doubt on a number of assumptions that previously dominated law teaching. Thus, the legal and economic movement evaluates legal statutes and court decisions in terms of effectiveness and incentives, while critical race theory carefully considers the consequences of equality of laws and social practices.

The basic principles of the legal and literary movement are:

  • Legal issues can be found in many novels and other literary texts, and a close reading of literary works will contribute to new insights into the relationship between law and morality and justice.
  • The methods of interpretation used by literary critics can be used in the legal justification and interpretation of constitutions and regulations.

Some literary works show these scholars as Shakespeare Venetian merchantGoethe FaustMelvilniki Billy Budd and Kafkaniki Test– clear consideration of legal issues. Others – like Aeschylus Orestia and Sofoklniki Antigone– Analysis of legal and moral relations. Others, like Dickens Bad house and Pickwick Papers, criticism of legal norms and the activities of legal institutions. Then there are works like Dostoevsky The Karamazov brothers and Crime and punishment– this is due to the complexity of the legal decision.

Literature can serve as an objective to look at other unrecognized truths. So he can use the text like a scientist Snowfall on cedars disclosure of the invisibility of racial privilege or use Middlemarch to study the inequalities in marriage and the strength of cultural norms about the roles of spouses.

The adoption of interdisciplinary relations has sparked heated debate among legal scholars. The late Richard Posner, a staunch defender of the law and economics movement, who served in the Seventh Court of Appeals and taught law at the University of Chicago, was a particularly vocal critic of the law and literature movement.

Posner argues that because literary texts can be interpreted in any form, the commentary approaches used by literary critics are of little or no benefit to judges, who must instead read the statutes in a literal or sound sense. Otherwise, an overly complex reading of laws will increase public skepticism about the objectivity of legal decisions and lead to arbitrary court decisions that undermine the predictability of the law.

But such criticism, I think, is rudely exaggerated. Barsky’s book, published on the occasion of the 70th anniversary of the 1951 Refugee Status Convention, emphasizes the power of literature to expose, inform, and feel and promote empathy, recognition, and identification.

Today, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, more than 82 million people have been forcibly displaced as a result of persecution, violence, human rights abuses and civil unrest, and millions more have been displaced. remains in refugee camps for a decade or more. . More than 40 percent are under 18 years old.

More and more people are stateless or forced to emigrate due to economic necessity.

None of this is new, as Barsky wrote very impressively.

Between 1330 and 1550, about 64,000 foreigners immigrated to England. In the 1590s, another influx of immigrants caused a wave of riots. These events prompted the forgotten playwright Anthony Munday to write a play that was never produced. Sir Thomas More book. William Shakespeare was brought in to rewrite a part of the play, and as a result three handwritten pages appeared, representing the only known literary manuscript in Shakespeare’s hand.

In a scene set by Shakespeare, Thomas More, Lord Chancellor of King Henry VIII, confronts a group of rebels who are calling for the expulsion of the immigrants, condemning their “mountain inhumanity” and asking them to sympathize with the plight of the refugees. ”

Here are some of Shakespeare’s words:

“Wow, wow! Now tell the king / If the criminal is grieving, he is very kind, / Should it be less than your great sin / Nothing but expelling you: where would you go? Should it give you a port?

“Go to France or Flanders, any region of Germany, Spain or Portugal. No, go anywhere not related to England: Why should you be a stranger.”

If we really want to understand the fate of refugees, asylum seekers, labor migrants, foreigners and evacuees, read their memoirs, their own stories and novels, as well as social science reports that document the problems these people face. At the same time, Barsky analyzes with such skill that generations of people, regardless of our ancestry, who have suffered from exile, exile, and exile, have fled to intolerable conditions, or are hoping for a better life. also read classic works that remind us that we are. life

Thirty-nine times in the Bible, Exodus – in many ways the ur text of Western culture – reminds us of our commitment to the displaced. Let us not forget these words: “Do not grieve the stranger, do not oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.”

Stephen Mints is a professor of history at the University of Texas at Austin.


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